Friday, November 19, 2010

Paleo expert Melissa McEwen interviewed on her conversion from veganism

Let Them Eat Meat : Interview With an Ex-Vegan: Melissa McEwen

Interview With an Ex-Vegan: Melissa McEwen

Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the past few months, you probably read “New Age Caveman in the City,” the New York Times feature on aspiring Stone Agers in NYC. If so, you may remember Melissa McEwen as the lone cavewoman of the group, providing some refreshing gender balance to the paleo diet argument that rice cakes and rolled oats aren’t health foods — meat is.

Melissa discusses the paleo diet and all its meaty nutrients on her site Hunt.Gather.Love, on Twitter and sometimes in the comments of the blog you’re reading right now. On top of that, she’s scheduled to speak at the Ancestral Health Symposium in Los Angeles next summer and she’s just been interviewed by Let Them Eat Meat. You might say that Melissa is already a star in the paleo world.

But of course none of this would have been possible if Melissa had stuck with veganism.

Melissa holds building together

What’s all this about animal foods being nutritious? Didn’t you used to be vegan?

I’ve always had terrible health problems: stomach issues, migraines and allergies were the worst ones. I assumed it was because of my picky eating habits. Whenever I felt sick my mother would tell me it was because I didn’t eat enough vegetables. Then when I got to college I was diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease and irritable bowel syndrome.

I read John Robbins’ Diet for a New America, which talked about how many common health ailments were related to diet, particularly animal products. I lived in a dormitory that had a vegetarian cafeteria and started eating there. A few things got better, but I still was on many medications. At one point I think I was on 13 different ones!

I was involved in several environmental groups and met many vegans that I admired. They convinced me that veganism was more logical than vegetarianism, since milk and eggs involve plenty of dead animals, so I cut those out too.

But I still didn’t feel great. When I moved into a dorm without a cafeteria I started experimenting with my diet. I did a pretty lengthy elimination diet and realized gluten was the probable cause of my GERD, but that other grains seemed to irritate my digestive system as well.

Did you try cutting out grains?

I did grain-free veganism for several months, but I struggled with chronic hunger. I would lapse by eating cheese at some public function and then feel gross and guilty. I ate at the local vegan restaurant, The Red Herring, as often as possible. But whenever I ate there I got sick.

Then I got really sick. It took my doctors some time to figure out what I had because they weren’t sure if my other illnesses had gotten worse or if I had a new illness. It turns out I had salmonella and that it had taken up residence. Most young people are able to clear salmonella within a few days, but it had tormented me for over a month. I had to go on some heavy duty antibiotics.

I fell into raw veganism because my digestive system was trashed and I thought maybe it would be the cure. So many people on raw vegan boards have stories about how it’s such a wonderful diet and because of it they are no longer sick. I believed them. I definitely felt much better… at first.

This is the common lament of raw veganism. It eliminates most problematic foods, but where is the nutrition? At this point I had been sick enough that I just wanted to get better and after reading Art De Vany’s writings on evolutionary diet and fitness, I decided to follow his recommendations.


What was your major?

I studied agricultural economics at the University of Illinois and then forest ecology at the Swedish University of Agriculture. I kept waffling between majors and so I took a diverse selection of courses — food/agricultural law, nutrition science, econometrics, environmental economics, entomology, development economics, toxicology, crop science and anthropology.

I plan on eventually doing a PhD in forestry or natural resource economics and I would also like to have my own farm.

Fantastic article with a very smart lady! Melissa's blog Hunt, Gather, Love is excellent, and in this article she talks about her journey to paleo from veganism, and displays a deep knowledge of nutrition and dietary issues. I did the vegetarian thing for a few years after reading John Robbins’ Diet for a New America as well, and gained a ton of weight, weight which I struggled to lose. I went off vegetarianism after reading the book The Paleolithic Prescription, which was fascinating, and disabused me of my vegetarian philosophy.

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